Deuteronomy 4 – A Call to Obedience
A. Moses challenges the nation to obedience.
1. (1-8) Moses challenges Israel to learn from the example of Baal-Peor.
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you. Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?”
a. Now, O Israel, listen: Moses had reminded Israel of their many rebellions against God in the wilderness. Now, as they were ready to enter into the Promised Land, he wanted them to think about their need for present obedience in light of their past rebellions.
i. As noticed before, one of Satan’s great strategies is to make us remember what we should forget, and forget what we should remember. If we don’t remember our past sins and rebellions against God, we can easily repeat them, falling into the same sinful patterns and traps: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
b. That you may live: In the larger sense, spiritual life and death depended on Israel’s obedience. Yet also in the more immediate sense, physical life and death depended on their obedience. Israel was about to attack a strong nation and to push them out of the Promised Land – if they didn’t have the blessing of the Lord upon them, they would soon be in a lot of trouble.
i. In fact, Israel’s first military loss in the Promised Land (at Ai, Joshua 7) came specifically because they had disobeyed God. 36 men died at Ai, because one man in Israel (Achan) did not obey the command of the Lord.
c. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it: This is an important principle regarding God’s Word. We are not to add to it (in the sense of making the traditions and opinions of men equal to the law of God), nor are we to take away from it (by bad teaching or explaining away passages).
i. This same idea is repeated in Revelation 22:18-19: For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
d. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor: At Baal Peor, Israel sinned by committing both sexual and spiritual immorality with the women of Moab. Moses warned the people of Israel that if they rejected God now as they did back then, the result would be the same. Many would die in the judgment of the Lord.
e. Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding nation: God’s intention was that through Israel’s obedience to the covenant, He would exalt them among the nations and make them a witness. This was so that foreigners, like the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon at the height of his blessing, would see that the Lord God of Israel was indeed the Lord God (1 Kings 10).
2. (9-20) Moses challenges Israel to learn from the example at Mount Sinai (Horeb).
“Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, “especially concerning the day you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess. Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage. But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day.”
a. Only take heed to yourself: After this warning, Moses then warned them to take the commands of God and teach them to your children and your grandchildren. Israel was not play the hypocritical game of “do what I say and not what I do” with their children. Instead they were to take heed to themselves first, then instruction their children.
b. Especially concerning the day: Moses told the nation to especially tell their children about the experience in Horeb (that is, Mount Sinai) – an experience most of these only knew as children, if at all.
i. At Horeb, the nation of Israel heard God speak (I will let them hear My words). The intention of such a personal encounter was so that they would obey God – but they did not.
c. He declared to you His covenant: At Mount Sinai, Israel did not only receive commandments from God; they also entered into a covenant with Him, promising to obey Him, and God promising to bless an obedient Israel (Exodus 24:1-8).
d. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice: The commands at Horeb had to be obeyed. Because they saw no form of God, therefore God commanded that they must never make an image to represent Him.
i. Israel also was forbidden to worship the creation of God. Neither any beast or bird or the sun, the moon, and the stars are fit for our worship. This is worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).
e. The Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace: Because God has delivered us, He has rights over us. He did not deliver us so we could do our own thing, but so we could do His thing.
3. (21-24) Moses challenges Israel to learn from the example of his own failure.
“Furthermore the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I would not cross over the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. But I must die in this land, I must not cross over the Jordan; but you shall cross over and possess that good land. Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
a. The Lord was angry with me for your sakes: It was for the sake of Israel that God disciplined Moses, not allowing him to enter the Promised Land. Israel needed to see that no man, not even Moses was above the Law. They also had to understand that it was indeed better that Joshua lead them into the Promised Land instead of Moses.
b. I must die in this land . . . but you shall cross over and possess that good land: Moses was humble enough to recognize his own sin and failure before Israel, and he had enough faith to believe that they could make it – even without him.
i. Moses knew that he was replaceable. It is a dangerous thing when anybody in the ministry begins to think they are doing something no one else can do, or that they are irreplaceable. God can and does use anyone; if a ministry does depend on one irreplaceable person, then it is of man and not of God. Moses was humble enough, and wise enough, to know this.
c. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire: Moses’ idea is simply, “If God did not spare me when I blew it, don’t think He will spare you if you turn to other God. God is a consuming fire, and we must take Him and obedience to Him seriously.” The same idea is echoed in Hebrews 12:29.
B. Moses warns the nation about the danger of disobedience.
1. (25-28) The price of serving other gods: exile among the nations.
“When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.”
a. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: Creation itself would testify against an idol worshipping Israel. They would be destroyed in the land God promised to give them.
b. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples: God gave Israel the Promised Land, but not unconditionally. If they persisted in idol worship, God would remove them from the land and scatter them among the nations.
i. This, of course, is exactly what happened. Some 550 years later, at the time of the Babylonian Exile of Judah.
c. There you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell: If Israel was exiled, they would then get their fill of idols. God would put them in a land filled with idols.
i. Often, God’s chastisement on us is to give us what our sinful hearts long for. If Israel wanted idols, God would give them idols.
2. (29-31) God’s mercy to exiled Israel.
“But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.”
a. From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him: God would not totally abandon Israel in exile. When they were ready to turn back to the Lord, He would be ready to receive them.
b. If you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul: However, if Israel was to find the Lord, they had to seek Him with all their heart and all their soul.
i. In this context, to seek God with the heart has the idea of passionately seeking Him, seeking Him because you really want to love the Lord. Seeking God with the soul has the idea of seeking God with our mind, will, and emotions; with giving all of ourselves to Him.
c. When you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice: This shows that when we seek God with all our heart and all our soul, it will show itself in obedience.
3. (32-40) The sensibility of serving God.
“For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
a. For ask now: Moses asked Israel to carefully consider the days that are past, and if God had ever dealt with any other nation the way He had dealt with Israel. Israel needed to know they had a special place in the plan of God.
b. To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God: Israel could know that the Lord was God, because of all the amazing things God did in the life of their nation.
i. In the same way, when we consider how God has touched our lives – how we have experienced the power to free us from sin, to give us hope when we are discouraged, to heal our bodies, to free our bitter hearts, to answer our prayers, to overcome the most difficult obstacles – when we consider these things, we can know that the Lord Himself is God.
c. The Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath, there is no other: Israel heard God’s audible voice from heaven; they saw His holy fire, and benefited from His divine choice. They could know this from all God had done for them.
d. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments: In light of who God is, and all He did for Israel, obedience to His commands made perfect sense. It was simply what should be done. We are fools to disobey such a God of love and power.
i. The Lord gives man the invitation: Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord (Isaiah 1:18). When we consider the alternatives, serving God is the only option. We often think that we have it hard serving the Lord, but we would be in an even worse place without Him. It has been said, “Democracy is the worst form of government ever created, except for all the others.” We could also say, “Serving God is the hardest way to live, except for all the other ways.”
4. (41-43) Moses sets apart cities of refuge in the land east of the Jordan River.
Then Moses set apart three cities on this side of the Jordan, toward the rising of the sun, that the manslayer might flee there, who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without having hated him in time past, and that by fleeing to one of these cities he might live: Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.
a. Then Moses set apart three cities on this side of the Jordan: This was part of the essential preparation for entering the Promised Land. God commanded that three cities of refuge be readied on each side of the Jordan River (Numbers 35:14), and here, the three cities on the east side of the Jordan were appointed.
b. Three cities on this side of the Jordan: Moses could not appoint all six cities of refuge, because they had not yet taken the land on the western side of the Jordan River. Still, though he could not obey all of God’s command to appoint six cities of refuge, he did what he could – and appointed the three on the east of the Jordan.
i. “Hence let us learn that, even when we cannot at once entirely carry out what God commands us to do, we are still to be by no means idle. For nothing but sheer laziness stands in our way, unless we speedily commence at God’s command what it is His will to finish.” (Calvin)
5. (44-49) Moses will review the commandments of God with the people of Israel.
Now this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel. These are the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which Moses spoke to the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt, on this side of the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, whom Moses and the children of Israel defeated after they came out of Egypt. And they took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, two kings of the Amorites, who were on this side of the Jordan, toward the rising of the sun, from Aroer, which is on the bank of the River Arnon, even to Mount Sion (that is, Hermon), and all the plain on the east side of the Jordan as far as the Sea of the Arabah, below the slopes of Pisgah.
a. This is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel: As Moses addressed the nation they were on the threshold of the Promised Land. It had been some 38 years since they received the Law of God at Mount Sinai and now Moses reviewed and explained the Law of God with the new generation.
b. On this side of the Jordan: If they were going to take the Promised Land, they had to be trained in God’s Word. They would not take it by a do-it-yourself spirituality, but only by obedience to the eternal word of God. The same is true for us – we will never walk in the abundant life God has for us unless we do it by His word.
© 2006 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission